A good relationship with God and people is inherent to the teaching of the Bible. It is at the heart of the 10 commandments and it is reaffirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:30,31 : “Love God … love your neighbour…”.
The 5th Chapter of Paul’s letter to Timothy deals with relationships at different levels.
(i) In 5:1-2 Paul tells Timothy how to relate, as a pastor to older men, younger men, older women and younger women in the church.
(ii) In 5:3-16 Paul helps Timothy in terms of relating to widows and vulnerable people in the church. We will consider this text, God willing in February 2017 when we plan to have a “Diaconate Awareness Sunday” explaining, and showcasing our diaconal ministry.
(iii) In 5: 17-25 Paul explains how we ought to relate to the elders of the church, and how to understand their calling and character.
To this matter we now turn our attention.
The matter of the elder and diaconal leadership of the church was already raised by Paul in Chapter 3: 1-13. In the matter of eldership Paul had stated that “ If anyone aspires to the office of an overseer, he desires a noble task” (3:1) after which he also gives a list of necessary qualifications (3:2-7).
Now as we come to our text in 5:17-25, Paul deals with 5 further aspects relating to the office of the elder:
(i) 5:17,18: The remuneration of the full-time elders- particularly those who are set apart to labour in preaching and teaching.
(ii) 5:19-20: The church discipline for elders who sin.
(iii) 5:21: The importance of being impartial.
(iv) 5:22-23: The importance of not being hasty in the laying on of hands (w.r.t elder ordination)
(v) 5:24-25: The importance of discernment.
1. 5:17,18 : The remuneration of the elders that rule well – particularly those who are set apart to labour in preaching and teaching:
The emphasis here is on the elders who “ruling well“. It appears as if the elders of the early churches were remunerated, because they put in a lot of work and effort into the work of shepherding the flock, and Paul has particularly those in mind who were set apart for the preaching and teaching of the Word. Such elders who ruled well in the church, and especially those that laboured in the Word [Gr. kopos lit. “toil resulting in weariness” (Vines) ] ought to be considered worthy of double honour. Since the Word of God is central to the church’s life because the Word accurately preached maintains the proper Christ centered focus of the church, it is important that the church recognizes this appropriately. Such elders who rule well, and who diligently labour in the Word, says Paul are worthy of double honour. What is meant by double honour? It means generous provision, but this would depend on their efficiency, as the adverb ‘well’ indicates.
V.18 (a quote from Deut. 25:4) is linked to this thought, and the argument goes that if God is concerned that working animals are adequately fed, how much more concern must He not have for those that labour on behalf of the church. Paul’s second quotation follows, “The labourer deserves his wages”. These words were in fact spoken by Jesus in Luke 10:7.  Comparing pastoral work to the work that oxen or labourers do may not sound very flattering, but it does in essence describe the work of the pastor. Biblical pastors do a lot of plodding work, a lot of menial work. They are, after all, only servants. However, Paul says, that such work ought to be tangibly appreciated in the church.
2. 5: 19-20 : Church discipline for elders who sin : Those who do not rule well
Paul now turns from good pastor –elders who deserve recognition and appreciation to bad pastor elders who deserve to be rebuked. He address the manner in which sinning elders need to be addressed. Paul gives two directives in this regard:
(i) What to do when an elder is accused (v.19)
(ii) What to do when an elder is found guilty (v.20)
In the first instance Paul says that the church is not to receive an accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses (v.19) i.e. the charge must be substantiated by several people. This is an OT principle (Deut. 19:15) which is maintained in the NT ( 2 Cor. 13:1 cf. Matt. 18:16). This regulation is important for the protection of pastor –elders , who easily become the subjects of gossip and slander. A smear campaign can ruin a pastor’s ministry. Therefore it is important that such charges are actually proven. Hear-say is not good enough. Facts and witnesses are needed.
In the second instance, when an elder is proven guilty (and remains guilty or unrepentant – note the present tense), such should be rebuked in the presence of all. The general rule is that private sin ought to be confronted privately, and public sin ought to be dealt with publicly. When elders sin against the church, they must be dealt with before the church, so that the rest may stand in fear. Church discipline is necessary because the heart and life of the church is at stake. If problems are routinely ignored and glossed over, this produces an atmosphere where others will be tempted and encouraged to sin. Church discipline causes people to take note .
Such an action, in terms of public rebuke must always be the last resort however, and it is never a cause for gloating. It is a very sad thing for church elders to sin. Many of God’s flock are devastated when that happens.
3. 5:21 : The importance of being impartial
Now Paul solemnly charges Timothy with a very important matter, “ I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging (Gr. prokrima – jumping to conclusions), doing nothing from partiality (favouritism).” In the matter of dealing with elders and people it is very important that a sense of fairness must prevail. The history of the church has often shown the opposite, where sinning priests, pastors and elders have sometimes been protected by the system and excused from their sin, whilst many a church member has continued to live with the bitterness of injustice.
Pastor-elders must strive to be impartial , and where two people or parties are at odds with one another it is important that sides are not taken ; that truth is established and that people are helped forward . At all times elders will strive to keep people together, since God is a God of peace and the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Unity and the Lord Jesus Christ has died to make us one.
4. 5:22-23 : Be careful in hasty laying on of hand ( with reference to elder ordination)
In context, the laying on of hands here probably refers to pastor – elder ordination. In the pastoral epistles we have two other occasions when mention is made of the laying on of hands [1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6].
It is a very common human tendency to make premature and hasty decisions which should have been made with adequate testing and prayer. There may of course be an opposite mistake, when we fail to make a decision at all. The general rule is that it is better to take time with the appointment of church leaders.
There is an added thought linked to this statement, “nor take part in the sins of others”. If through excessive haste a mistake is made or if the person chosen as a leader in the church happens to be spiritually unqualified or acting unwisely or sinfully (and contrary to the character expressed in 1 Tim 3:1-7), Timothy may find that he shares in the sins of others or find himself implicated in other people’s misdeeds. There is no thing such as sinning in isolation. An eldership can go through a very difficult time as a result of one man's sin, and much energy needed elsewhere can be wasted and drained when the eldership faces internal sin issues. When this happens it almost feels that the gospel is put on hold, while much precious time is spent on resolving sin issues.
Paul wants to spare Timothy from these things . He wants Timothy to keep himself pure by making wise, godly leadership appointments .
5. 5:24-25 : The importance of discernment
These verses develop Paul’s emphasis on the need for caution and add a further reason to avoid haste. The fact of the matter is that people are frequently different from what they appear at first. Frequently we underestimate or overestimate people. The point is that true character only surfaces over a period of time, and therefore time is needed to establish proven character. The passage in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 makes it clear that an elder’s character must be established before he can serve as such.
Now, says Paul, ”the sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement…”. The case is clear here, but other cases “the sins of others appear later”, The same criterion can be applied to good works. Some are immediately apparent, “ and in the same way also good works are conspicuous”, and other good works take a little time before they surface “…and even those that are not cannot remain hidden…”
The point is that we cannot judge by mere appearances. We need discernment. We learn this from an iceberg. 9/10 of the iceberg is hidden below the surface. In the same way 9/10 of a person’s character is hidden from view, and is this this 9/10 which is the substance of the iceberg. It is this major fraction that does the damage, as the captain of the Titanic discovered too late. We therefore need time to make an assessment of a person’s character. Attractive personalities and people often have hidden weaknesses, whilst ordinary, unassuming people may have hidden strength. Don’t judge a book by its cover, the English Proverb says. You need to read it to make an assessment, and reading takes time. Elders must never be chosen on the superficial basis of having high business or political profiles. Christian character is everything. It is the essential test that an elder must pass. We need to learn to discern between the seen and the unseen, the surface and the depth, the appearance and the reality.
So then we have learned 5 things in understanding and dealing with our pastors or elders:
1. Appreciate them when they rule well
2. Deal with them fairly when they do not do well.Make sure that any charge against an elder is substantiated by two or more witnesses.
3. Elders should be impartial , avoiding all favouritism
4. Elders should be carefully chosen
5. A proper discernment needs to be made with respect to choosing elders. Look beyond outward appearance.
Whenever the church takes these principles seriously, mistakes will be avoided and the church will be preserved in peace and love, and God’s Name will be protected and honoured.